Based on one of the richest surviving diaries of the Dutch Golden Age, Princely Power in the Dutch Republic recaptures the social world of William Frederick of Nassau (1613-1664). As a Stadholder and relative of the Prince of Orange, William Frederick was among the key players in a fragmented republican state system. This study offers a vivid analysis of his political strategies and reveals how unwritten codes of patronage guided his daily contacts and shaped his mental world.
As a patron at his court and as a client of the Prince of Orange, William Frederick developed distinctive patronage roles, appropriate to different social spheres. By assessing these different roles, Janssen provides a unique insight into the ways in which a seventeenth-century nobleman negotiated and articulated clientage, friendship and corruption in his life.
This study offers an in-depth analysis of political practices in the Dutch Republic and reconsiders the way in which patronage shaped early modern politics, affected religious divisions and framed social identities.
Publisher: Manchester University Press
Number of pages: 232
Weight: 522 g
Dimensions: 234 x 156 x 28 mm
Willem Frederik (1613-1664), Count and since 1654 Prince of Nassau-Dietz, was a younger son of the junior branch of the Nassau family in the Dutch Republic. His father was a field-marshal in the Dutch army and stadholder of the provinces of Friesland and Groningen. The highest military rank, that of captain- and admiralgeneral of the Union, and the stadholderate of Holland, the most prosperous of the seven provinces of the Dutch Republic, was the preserve of the descendants of William I, the 'taciturn'. Willem Frederik seemed destined to live the life of so many lesser nobles: i.e. to retain the rank of colonel at best. His chances for social and military ascendancy only improved after his elder brother, Hendrik Casimir I, was killed in battle in 1640. Frederik Hendrik, Prince of Orange-Nassau, intended to unite all provinces under his leadership, but the States of Friesland thwarted him by choosing Willem Frederik. However, the overt hostility that Frederik Hendrik Book Reviews 163 displayed toward his 'Frisian' cousin, made it highly unlikely that Willem Frederik would be able to attain the rank of general in the Dutch army. It was not until Frederik Hendrik's death in 1647 and the election of his only son, Willem II, to the highest public and military offices in the Dutch Republic, that Willem Frederik's prospects started to improve. In 1664 he was finally entrusted with his first independent military command: the capture of the Dijlerschans, a fort in East- Friesland which had been occupied by troops from Mu. nster. At long last the rank of field-marshal seemed within his grasp, but an accident while cleaning his pistols prevented this (24 October 1664). He died a week later. This overview of Willem Frederik's chequered life on the fringes of Dutch political and military life, makes the question pertinent why Geert Janssen chose him as the subject for his study of 'princely' power in the Dutch Republic. On the face of it he is certainly not the most likely candidate for this. Two reasons, however, offer compensation for his relatively low position: first, he has left us a rich and well preserved archive which contains both the letters and memoranda he received and the minutes of his replies; and second, he kept a diary in which he minutely recorded his thoughts on the political, military and social occurrences of his day. Together, Willem Frederik's records offer the historian a rare insight into the activities and concerns of a historical figure who struggled to make a name for himself in the Dutch Republic. In his study Geert Janssen sets out to show the workings and different shapes of patronage in the Dutch Republic. He distinguishes three different levels: Willem Frederik as a patron in his own right - a German noble - as stadholder of Friesland, and after the demise of Willem II in 1650 also of Groningen and Drenthe, and as captain-general of the troops in Friesland, Groningen and Drenthe. Janssen runs quickly into difficulties when he tries to prove the role of Willem Frederik as a patron in political matters, pointing out that the regents of Friesland were powerful and wealthy men who did not want to be governed by a strong stadholder. For this very reason they elected Willem Frederik to the stadholderate in 1640 and not Frederik Hendrik. Willem Frederik was certainly not the patron of the Frisian regents but rather their 'servant' who could only plot his own course when the regents were divided. Willem Frederik's limited personal wealth also limited his possibilities to build up a clientele as a lesser noble. Besides it is questionable whether everyone on Willem Frederik's role should be classified as a client, as Janssen seems to do (see 76). It does not seem to make sense to fit a cook, stable boy or house maid into the patron-client model. Willem Frederik's prospects of elevating his political and military powers improved on the death of Willem II in 1650. The Orange-branch of the family was for the time being prostrated. This was reflected by the fact that Frederik Hendrik's widow had to offer her daughter's hand in marriage to Willem Frederik as the only member of the Nassau family who still held a high office in the Dutch Republic. This was quite a step back compared to Willem II's marriage to the daughter of the King of England in 1641. Unfortunately Janssen is not overly interested in Willem Frederik's activities after 1650. He devotes only scant 164 European History Quarterly 42(1) attention (149-50) to his repeated attempts to gain the title of a field-marshal in the Dutch army. Willem Frederik's military capacity is all together neglected, probably because of Janssen's misconception that 'the captain-generalship of the province [of Friesland] was not a military rank but an administrative position' (62). This is not completely true. As provincial captain-general the stadholder not only had the right to appoint the officers of the companies of his province, but it was also his duty to command the troops in battle. An exception was made for the field army, the gathering of troops from all seven provinces, when supreme command rested with the captain-general of the Union, a rank that was discontinued on the death of Willem II and was only reinstated in 1672 with the appointment of William III. Willem Frederik's chances of becoming a powerful figure within the Dutch Republic would therefore increase in the years after 1650. His command of the expedition to the Dijlerschans seemed to be the stepping-stone to his gaining at last the rank of field-marshal. His accidental death precluded this. Janssen analyses the fledgling years of Willem Frederik's public and private life, but as a study of princely power in the Dutch Republic, his book is less convincing. Rather it deals with a 'public servant' of the States of Friesland and a reluctant client of the House of Orange. Perhaps this picture would have been more balanced had the author engaged with an analysis of Willem Frederik's mature years (1650-1164). -- Olaf van Nimwegen Eurpean History Quarterly 20120201